I have just settled back to work on THE SNOWY NAP after a 10 day trip to Japan with the Boston Symphony Orchestra. My husband, Joe plays the double bass, and the trip revolved around concerts, with Andris Nelsons conducting. My sister, Jeannie Brett Tsairis traveled with us. Since she is also an artist, I had the experience of seeing Japan through her eyes as well. The arts and culture of Japan are quite different, and we both found the trip inspiring. Whereas the US revels in its diversity, Japan seems very intense and focused. There is such a long history of Japanese culture it is easy to feel uneasy of making judgments without adequate background knowledge.
One of the highlights was seeing a individual man's collection, Mr. Takashita, of folding screens. Most in his collection were of natural subjects, especially birds and wild animals. There was even a painting of a rooster very similar to my Silver Phoenix. Phoenix are a long tailed chicken similar, but not as extreme as the Japanese Onagadori fowl. It is said that Samurai warriors crowned their armored helmets with the 20 foot tail feathers of this type of chicken that carries a mutation that prevents the tail feathers from molting, normally a yearly occurrence. Their tail feathers are really long.
Some of our outings were done in a group with an excellent tour guide, Maya. We went to the museum dedicated to the Japanese artist, Hokusai. I have a book of his artwork, and in it is a banner painted in about 1805 of Shoki, the demon queller. In the painting, the fierce looking man wears a round hat with tattered fringe hanging from its brim. Because of the hats similarity to the hats worn by Okinawan fishermen, it inspired the hat on the father octopus in THE MERMAID, my new book. I only mention this because it is amazing how convoluted the trail is from sights seen to their remix in one's imagination. Two years ago I was painting the hat on my character, and last week I saw original woodblock prints from the artist. My sister and I had to practically dragged away from the exhibits.
One very touching experience was going to the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. It was a special holiday, Shichi- Go-San when very small children, girls ages 3 and 7 and boys 3 and 5 wear traditional Kimono to the shrine, complete with ornamented hairstyles and wooden platform shoes called "Geta". The little boys were very proud in their kimonos sporting fierce creatures such as tigers and eagles. The little girls wear elegant and fanciful obi tied in intricate designs. The forest, which is almost 200 years old, is full of towering trees. To see the small children walking with their parents through the paths under the trees was unforgettable. I didn't feel comfortable taking photographs of the kids as it seemed like a very personal visit to the Meiji shrine for them. I imagine many traveled a great distance to be there.
When we were in Kyoto we stayed in a beautiful, traditional Japanese Inn in the Gion area. An indoor rock garden was in the entrance area, and our room was austere and elegant with Tatami mats and a low table where we were served a Kaiseki meal. The dinner consisted of many small exquisite courses. Two apprentice geisha, called Maiko, accompanied us. They brought a beautiful antique screen into our room. One of the young women played the Kokyou, a stringed instrument and sang. The other young women danced in an elegant storytelling manner. My husband after numerous trips to Japan, really enjoys the traditional music.
One of the highlights for me was going to the Kabuki theater. Many of the Kabuki plays are on YouTube so I have become familiar, but still not very knowledgeable.
Our last outing was to a cat cafe. The first one, in the trendy high fashion district was clean and bright, with gorgeous well groomed and friendly cats lolling about or introducing themselves. Many were long haired varieties with colored eyes and unusual colored fur. There was a huge plywood tree with platforms the cats could retreat to if they didn't want attention. Strangely, all the cats seemed to get along well. The second cafe was home to all Bengal cats. In that place, you sat on the floor, turned your jacket inside out, so the satin lining was exposed, and instantly two or three Bengal cats would settle on your lap to curl up and sleep. They were very beautiful. The rules were that you could pet the cats but not pick them up, so when it was time to go we had to summon the attendees to come and pick the cats up off our laps.
Now that I'm home, I am up at all hours working in the middle of the night because of jet lag. I have several weeks before we start the national book tour on our decorated bus. I will be introducing my new book, set in Okinawa, Japan THE MERMAID. Because THE MERMAID has a tropical setting I will also talk a bit about THE ANIMAL'S SANTA, because it is a seasonal book. I can't bring an octopus or mermaid along with me, I'll bring "Little Snow", the character from my Christmas book published in 2014. We are really gearing up for the book signing tour. This weekend I'll be going out to buy the markers in order to draw father octopus in his Kimono and round hat, and Kiniro, the mermaid. The best part of the tour is meeting young artists. When children bring me their drawings, it is like a wonderful gift, and it gives me positive feelings for the future.
Happy creating, Jan